There was always a chance that this grand experiment would fail. Our founding fathers knew it—we were entering uncharted territory, they thought. Never before had the masses been defined as equal, intentionally given the power to create their own reality.
They patterned the structure of their new government loosely after the Roman empire, and called on the Magna Carta and theories of more recent philosophers like John Locke. For the most part, they were Englishmen—some landowners given charters, some debtors escaping destitution with the hope of building new lives, some religious sorts persecuted because they didn’t believe the “right way.” The latter battle had been going on for centuries. So had the civil wars, all about the same things—who got to say, “My way or the highway” for a moment.
One branch of my family came to America from France, by way of England, to escape the oppression of three choices—swear loyalty to the belief system of those in power (Catholic vs. Protestant), become a slave in the hold of a ship, or be hung for doing neither. One son got out. His parents found the noose, apparently. Another branch, descended from a bookseller whose home and office in the doors of St. Paul’s Cathedral had been taken away from him because he’d been vocally supportive of the soon-to-be-beheaded Charles I, indentured his two sons to a man setting sail for Virginia. About the same time, up the coast a bit, new countrymen of his sons (among whom were members of yet another branch of my family), a group who’d set sail without a charter, running for their lives (again for religious reasons) would blame their failed crops and dying relatives and cattle, not on the harshness of life itself or the folly of their decision-making, but on witchcraft and the red-skinned humans they were surprised to encounter upon disembarking. (God, by the way, would be thanked for the demise of those red-skinned people instead of the smallpox (and muskets) brought by the Englishmen themselves.)
It would take only 150 years or so before this somewhat disjumbled group would take the war back across the sea against the mother country, another 90 after that before they were at each other’s throats. And now, here we sit 150 years after that.
Will we make it through another cycle of 90 years? As the world watches and waits, our grand experiment teeters once again at the edge of oblivion, the blame for our woes attributed to witches and warlocks of a different name—Republicans and Democrats. Burn them at the stake! Dunk them under water! He did it! No, she! (Cotton Mather would be proud. So, for that matter, would be Joseph McCarthy…)
Our founding fathers were wrong about one thing, I’m afraid. That notion about us creating our own realities started long before 1776. We did it in the proverbial Eden, and have never stopped. The only question is what reality exactly are we creating? Sounds to me like we’re just repeating ourselves.
“Where there is no property, there is no injustice.” –John Locke
“And knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, ‘Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.’” –Matthew 12:25 (Abraham Lincoln quoted this one, too.)
“United we stand, divided we fall.” –Patrick Henry
Are you a divider or one who seeks to unite? Our reality awaits its creation.